Host City: Beijing, China
Date Started: August 9, 2008
Date Finished: August 17, 2008
Participants: 1,022 (569 men and 453 women) from 163 countries
Youngest Participant: Antoinette Guedia (12 years, 300 days)
Oldest Participant: Dara Torres (41 years, 123 days)
Most Medals (Athlete): Michael Phelps (8 medals)
Most Medals (Country): United States (31 medals)
At a normal Olympics the stories of the Games may have been the 25 world records broken during the competition or the double victories of Kosuke Kitajima, Britta Steffen, Steph Rice and Becky Adlington. The first champions from Korea and North Africa would also have been more widely feted as would the win of cancer survivor Maarten van der Weijden in the open water swim.
However the story of swimming at the 2008 Beijing Games was the story of one man. Michael Fred Phelps of Baltimore, USA arrived in China as a six-time Olympic champion, with his sights set on five individual and three relay titles from his third Olympic Games. He left undefeated, having broken a plethora of absolute Olympic records. Mark Spitz's record for most gold medals at a single Games (7 in 1972) fell to Phelps as did the all-time total of Olympic championships held, depending on your view of the official status of the 1906 Olympics, either by Ray Ewry with 10 or shared between Spitz, Carl Lewis, Larysa Latynina and Paavo Nurmi with nine apiece. His eight gold medal haul also equalled his own and Aleksandr Dityatin's shared record of eight medals of any colour at a single Games . Phelps' performance at Beijing was such that his results would have placed him in the top ten of the overall medal table ahead of such countries as France and Spain. His efforts also earned him a profusion of awards including the Laureus and Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year awards for 2008.
Elsewhere 41-year-old Dara Torres returned from retirement to become the oldest female medallist in the history of the sport whilst the oldest world record still standing, the women's 800 m set by Janet Evans at the Seoul Games of 1988, was finally broken by Becky Adlington.
The major controversy of the year was the introduction of a new generation of so called "super suits". Woven with polyurethane, spandex and nylon there were claimed to give an aerodynamic advantage of up to 2 % on more traditional materials by more effectively compressing the body and trapping air for buoyancy. Described by some as a form of "technological doping" they were banned from the start of 2009.
Another "star" of the Games was the venue itself. The [Beijing National Aquatics Center], which became popularly known as the "Water Cube", won a succession of architectural awards and was almost universally praised by critics and fans alike. The design leaned heavily on Chinese symbolism and had a bubble effect on the outer walls which showed to brilliant effect when floodlit.